Healthcare heroes: Local man empowers next generation of medical field workers
For Mark Reynolds, a healthcare career that has spanned almost two decades began with two things: a love for people and the desire to properly educate others after the accidental drug overdose of his grandfather by medical professionals when Reynolds was a child. These two motivators have propelled his career, during which he has served as a healthcare provider as well as the clinical associate professor of nursing and the RN to BSN program director at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Reynolds said he always knew he wanted to do something in the medical field, and something with teaching or training, but he had not been sure what that would look like. He began his first step in the journey as a certified nursing assistant and then continued in his education until he earned his doctorate in nursing practice in 2016.
“Once I started doing work as a nursing assistant, I realized nursing really was the calling for me,” Reynolds said. “I have always had a passion for caring for people and for helping people, especially the geriatric population. I spent many years of nursing on the geriatric psychiatric new day unit on the respiratory care unit in Huntsville Hospital.”
It was also during this time that Reynolds realized his natural ability to teach and instruct others. After helping train new employees and being a preceptor for nursing students, Reynolds decided to return to school.
“In 2006 I decided I wanted to go back to school because whenever we would hire new people, I would always be in charge of training them, or if we had new students on the floor, I would always be their preceptor,” Reynolds said. With praise for his natural teaching ability from those around him, he went back and got his master’s degree followed by his post-master’s degree in education. He finished with a doctorate in nursing practice in 2016.
Reynolds said working bedside for his patients and teaching future students to do the same have both had their rewarding moments. He said one of his favorite things about caring for aging or end–of–life patients is being able to return dignity and beauty to something that is typically viewed as daunting – death.
“When I was a bedside nurse, there was an instance when I was taking care of someone I knew,” Reynolds said. “The patient was very, very sick, and the patient had a poor diagnosis and poor prognosis and was not going to be around for much longer.
“The patient’s family had asked me to pray with the patient – I am very religious – and as we were praying, the patient passed away. The patient was a DNR (do not resuscitate), and the family knew they were going to pass away, so they had expected it.
“We didn’t expect it right then, but as we were praying, he passed away,” Reynolds said. “It was so peaceful and so calming … and it was just a beautiful thing. I know it’s hard to think of death as a beautiful thing because death can be a scary thing, especially if it’s unexpected, but it was beautiful.”
Reynolds said one of the best parts of being an instructor is passing on knowledge and best practices to his students. He said he has seen many students improve their lives by earning their degrees and securing successful careers – some of whom have escaped bad home lives and abusive relationships. He said some of the best moments as an educator are seeing his former students in action, using the skills he helped teach them.
“I really love education. I have been doing it for 12 years now,” Reynolds said. “To be able to prepare the future generations of healthcare providers from many different instances is so rewarding, especially when you see them out on the floor practicing as a nurse or when they are taking care of you or one of your family members, and you know you had a part in making them the nurse they are today.”
Reynolds said he would encourage anyone who has an interest in healthcare to take the leap of faith and pursue a medical career. He said it is a career that has been rewarding, both on the frontlines as well as “behind the scenes,” empowering the next generation to care for the public. For Reynolds, one of the most important characteristics of a healthcare worker is a willingness to be a lifelong learner to provide the best care for the patients.
“Whenever you are done learning, you need to exit the profession, because you can no longer provide quality care for the population or our consumers,” he said. “That’s why I continued in school. I am sure my wife and my family never thought I was going to finish school because I kept going back to get more degrees and more certifications and things like that, but what I do really is the best of both worlds.”